High School

Gonzaga, St. John's face off Nov. 9 for the Game of the Week

Gonzaga, St. John's face off Nov. 9 for the Game of the Week

The WCAC is arguably the top conference in the country. Boasting four teams who perennially are in or near the national top 25, rarely does a week go by where there is not a big game, once conference play begins.

Perhaps the biggest of them all is St. John’s vs. Gonzaga.

On Saturday, the Eagles and Cadets will meet for the 98th time. Considered the longest-running Catholic high school football rivalry, Gonzaga leads the series 47-45 with five ties.

A rivalry of this stature is magnified when the teams involved are at the top of their respective games, as is the case this weekend with Gonzaga (8-1) ranked No. 1 in NBC Sports Washington's rankings and St. John’s (5-4), No. 2.

Although all-time history will make for great tailgate fodder and alumni will undoubtedly spend the lead up rehashing moments in games from 5-10 years past, for the current iteration of Eagle and Cadet, the lasting memories” derive from a far more recent date, November 10th, 2018. And a pointed question: “Was it a fumble or was it not?"

When Gonzaga and St.John’s met for the 97th time, it was during the first round of last season’s WCAC playoffs. The 9-0 Cadets were the No. 1 seed. After navigating a national schedule unblemished, they earned the right to be considered a top-five team in the country.

Having won the 2017 WCAC championship, and touting a star-studded roster, the Cadets were considered a shoo-in to repeat. The Eagles were merely another step along their path.

The Eagles (7-3) a No. 4 seed, entered the match-up a decided underdog. They were coming off a stretch in conference play in which they’d lost three of four games including a 34-17 defeat at the hands of the Cadets the week before.

From the start, it was evident this one would be a dog-fight. Zaga led 3-0 early. Threatening to score again, the Cadets forced a Gonzaga fumble and returned it for a touchdown and a 6-3 halftime lead.

The Eagles went up 10-6 in the 3rd on a Caleb Williams run and seized control moments later when Dean Engram returned a punt for a touchdown extending their lead to 17-6.

With their backs against the wall and dream season fading away, SJC woke up. Sol-Jay Maiava found Rakim Jarrett in the corner of the end zone for 6. A two-point conversion made the score 17-14 in the final quarter.

With under two minutes to play, the Cadets drove the ball inside the Eagles 10-yard line. The Cadets opted to keep the ball on the ground, bleeding the time away.

Ron Cook ran for four yards and the clock ticked under 1:30. St. John’s handed the ball to Cook again —Gonzaga LB Sean Johns broke through the line, he and Josh Williams twisted Cook around bringing him down to rest atop a purple defender. With no whistle being blown, the ball spilled out. Making a heads-up play, Aaron Davis picked it up and returned it 95 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.

Was it a fumble or should the runner have been signaled down? The call will be debated for eternity.

“The lesson we learned is you can’t leave the game in doubt and let others decide what’s going to happen to you”, said St. John’s head coach Joe Casamento.

Gonzaga went on to win the WCAC championship. St. John’s went home.

Since that game, the Eagles have been flying high. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games, their only loss being a five-overtime thriller to Good Counsel.

With a bend-but-don’t break defense, stellar offensive line and two-headed monster at running back, coach Randy Trivers has the Eagles clicking on all cylinders. Five-star quarterback Caleb Williams is a household name amongst recruiting circles and the Eagles football program has soared into a new stratosphere.

The Eagles have been ranked in the top two all season long, holding the No. 1 spot for six of nine weeks.

The Cadets' road has been rocky at times. They’ve endured a rash of injuries and at one point, a four-game losing streak, but they believe they have learned from their trials,

“Those four games, those four losses, I don’t want to feel that [pain] anymore”, said Mekhail Sherman.

St. John’s has embodied that spirit and found a will to win no matter the circumstance. Despite injuries calling for defensive linemen to start on the o-line, back-up quarterbacks leading game-winning drives and underclassmen playing significant roles, St. John’s has overcome adversity and got red-hot at the right time. Winners of three in a row, the Cadets have climbed back near the top of the mountain.

Much has changed since November 10th, 2018. Gonzaga is no longer an underdog, nor have the Cadets been penciled in as WCAC champions. What has stayed the same is the intensity and excitement surrounding this game.

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 St. John’s. The Eagles and Cadets may be meeting for the 98th time on Saturday, but nothing about this rivalry feels old. It’s born anew each time they step on the field.

DaLawn Parrish and Wise football reclaim Maryland state title

wise1.jpg
Photo by Chad Ricardo

DaLawn Parrish and Wise football reclaim Maryland state title

It’s been 379 days since Wise lost to Quince Orchard in their 2018 state semifinal matchup. It’s been 9,096 hours since the Pumas' 48-game win streak was snapped and 545,760 minutes since the then-four-time champion became nothing more than a contender.

That time has passed. Wise is Wise, again.

The Pumas defeated Northwest 35-21 to reclaim the Maryland 4A state championship Friday night. The victory ended a nightmare for head coach DaLawn Parrish that he’d been living in for over a year. Asked how often he’d thought about getting back to this moment, he replied, “just about every day."

From 2015-17, the Pumas experienced so much success that at times Parrish felt his adversaries, as well as some of his supposed supporters, were anxiously waiting to witness Wise’s downfall.

“A lot of times we talk about ‘us against the world,'” Parrish said. “I think back to that QO game and I did feel like everybody wanted us to lose. Even though we had all these people behind us, I felt like half of them was cheering for QO—it was like we weren’t being supported. When I was coming up, everybody wanted to see a dynasty, now it feels like everybody wants to see the underdog win."

Parrish and the Pumas set out to use that loss as a teaching tool for the student athletes, both on and off the field.

“We used it as motivation. It drove me, it drove these young men, it drove my coaches.

"This is bigger than X’s and O’s, it’s about surrounding [these student athletes] with good people. We help them to understand what failure looks like, what it is to continue to try and we teach them that although somedays things don’t go their way, they have to keep pushing forward."

The life lesson was on full display in the state championship game. Friday night was a tale of two halves. During the first, the Jags looked like the better team at times. Northwest quarterback Jordan Morse connected with wide receiver Kaden Prather down the right sideline for a 79-yard score in the first quarter and Ryan Beach zig-zagged 69 yards on a screen pass to even the match seconds before intermission.

The vaunted Wise defense that had only allowed two opponents to score in double figures all season had given up two touchdowns in just two quarters. Asked if anything the Jags did in the first half surprised him and his staff, a jovial Parrish responded, “It surprised me that one of my people blew a coverage,” with a smile. “And I will be honest, [Beach] was quicker than I thought he was. The film doesn’t do him justice."

The Pumas' defense entered the third frame with a renewed energy. It stymied the Jags rushing attack and applied relentless pressure to Morse, registering six sacks on the night.

“I knew that if we got them in 10-personnel, they’d be in trouble because they haven’t seen speed like ours," Parrish said. "A lot of what they do is screens and short passes, so if we could get pressure [on their quarterback], I thought we could blow the game open sooner or later."

After yielding a long completion in the first quarter, Jalil Farooq proved to be a difference maker for Wise. He blanketed Prather in the second half, getting his hands on multiple passes. His third-quarter interception swung the momentum in the Puma’s favor.

“Jalil played a helluva game," teammate Dorian Strong said. “His endless pass break-ups and the pick was key for us."

Farooq would capitalize on his forced turnover moments later, when he ran a reverse in from eight yards out and gave Wise a 28-14 lead.

The Pumas' main source of consistency throughout the evening was sophomore quarterback Jayden Sauray. When the game was in the balance, Sauray delivered. He threw second-half touchdowns to Strong and Keith Boddie Jr. to match his two first-half touchdown runs. The young QB showed skill and leadership beyond his years.

“The way he played with poise was outstanding,” Parrish said. “He doesn’t get rattled much. To be a 15-year old young man and have that kind of poise and confidence is unheard of. To stay the course and remain steady the way he does, just shows who he is and what’s to come [from him] will be outstanding."

The title is the Puma’s fourth in five years and the program’s fifth this decade. However, there is little reason to expect Parrish to celebrate for too long; he’s already planning his next steps,

“We just won this championship and my mind is working on next year," Parrish said. "Who do we have to replace? Who’s coming up from junior varsity? I’m thinking about my seniors and trying to get them in college. My mind is looking outward and I haven’t had a chance to take this all in. It’s like it never stops."

Such is life when you’ve built a dynasty. Wise is Wise, again.

MORE HIGH SCHOOL NEWS:

Top 20 DMV boys basketball: PVI, DeMatha lead rankings

basketball.0.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Top 20 DMV boys basketball: PVI, DeMatha lead rankings

Week 2 began with a Virginia rivalry matchup between PVI and Bishop J. O'Connell. Behind Duke commit Jeremy Roach, PVI defeated O'Connell, in a sold-out playoff environment gym.

In other notable matchups, Good Counsel upsetting Gonzaga 59-56 - Bez Mbeng led Good Counsel with 14 points.  Antoine Jacks and Dylan Williamson both contributed 12 points. And Eleanor Roosevelt defeated South River 73-61, and in an out-of-county matchup. In an IAC vs MAC non-conference game between St. Andrews and Georgetown Prep, St. Andrew's took the 89-52 victory. Dylan Edwards led St. Andrews with 15 points. Here's this week's top 25:

1. PVI 

2. DeMatha 

3. Gonzaga 

4. Saint Stephen's Saint Agnes 

5. St. John's 

6. Rock Creek

7. Bullis  

8. Archbishop Carroll

9.  Coolidge

10. Good Counsel

11. Riverdale Baptist 

12.  Bishop McNamara 

13. Thurgood Marshall

14. St. Andrew’s

15. Bishop O’Connell 

16. Georgetown Prep

17. St. Mary's Ryken

18. Wise

19. Wilson 

20. Eleanor Roosevelt 

 

Click here for the Top 20 girls' rankings.